It's beginning to look a lot like the run for Pacific-10 Conference men's basketball supremacy will also be a run for supremacy in the state of Washington.
Back in October, media members covering the conference nearly unanimously predicted a Pac-10 championship for the Washington Huskies. And three tight losses to strong teams haven’t done much to change that.
But if the media voters could take a mulligan – after watching most of the non-conference season play out – Washington State likely would make a large leap from the earlier fifth-place preseason prediction.
The Cougars’ 10-2 record includes a 22-point pounding of Gonzaga, while the losses came to Kansas State, ranked 11th in the nation, and national runner-up Butler in the final of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, where WSU added wins over Mississippi State and No. 15 Baylor.
“I think this game shows everybody in the country how good we can be,” WSU and Pac-10 leading scorer Klay Thompson told the Associated Press after he had 28 points in beating the Bears. “So, if we can carry this momentum into the Pac-10, we’re going to be good.”
Across the Cascades, the Huskies head into conference play with an 8-3 mark.
Every win has come by more than 20 points, and at least three opposing coaches have suggested UW has Final Four talent. Meanwhile, all three UW losses came by single digits to teams now in the Top 25: Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas A&M.
There are no ranked teams in the Pac-10 as conference play begins. However, UW, Arizona and WSU all received votes last week, and Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar thinks the conference is underrated.
“I think there are some teams in this league that are sort of growing and developing before our eyes here,” Romar said. “So, I think (the Pac-10 has) taken some tough losses, taken it on the chin in a couple of games. But again, I just hope what happened last year doesn’t happen this year in terms of the national perception.”
Here’s an updated look at the conference, with teams ranked in the order of the preseason media poll:
Individual leaders: Isaiah Thomas, 15.8 ppg; Matthew Bryan-Amaning, 6.5 rpg; Venoy Overton, 4.5 apg.
Key team stats: Leads Pac-10 in scoring (90.5), scoring margin (plus 22.4), 3-point percentage (42.2) and assists per game (19.18).
Pac-10 opener: Wednesday at USC.
Individual leaders: Derrick Williams, 19.3 ppg and 7.0 rpg; Kyle Fogg, 2.8 apg.
Key team stats: Leads in rebound margin (plus 6.2), free-throw percentage (77.9) and second in scoring (79).
Pac-10 opener: Thursday at Oregon.
Individual leaders: Tyler Honeycutt, 14.9 ppg and 8.0 rpg; Lazeric Jones, 2.9 apg.
Key team stats: Leads in blocked shots (6.25), ninth in turnover margin (minus 1.08).
Pac-10 opener: Wednesday vs. Washington State.
4. ARIZONA STATE
Individual leaders: Trent Lockett, 14.7 ppg; Kyle Cain, 8.5 rpg; Jamelle McMillan, 4.7 apg.
Key team stats: Last in scoring (64.8) and free-throw percentage (64.1); third in assists (15.73).
Pac-10 opener: Thursday at Oregon State.
5. WASHINGTON STATE
Individual leaders: Klay Thompson, 22.3 ppg and 4.3 apg; DeAngelo Casto, 5.8 rpg.
Key team stats: First in field goal percentage (49.4) and field goal percentage defense (36.9), second in scoring defense (61.8), 3-point field goal percentage defense (27.1) and turnover margin (plus 5.1); third in scoring margin (plus 16.0) and scoring (77.8); ninth in rebounding margin (minus 0.9).
Pac-10 opener: Wednesday at UCLA.
Individual leaders: Jio Fontan, 16.3 ppg; Nikola Vucevic, 9.6 rpg; Maurice Jones, 4.1 apg.
Key team stats: Third in field goal percentage defense (40.4), eighth in turnover margin (plus 0.23), ninth in assists (12.15).
Pac-10 opener: Wednesday vs. UW.
Individual leaders: Jorge Gutierrez, 12.8 ppg and 3.7 apg; Markhuri Sanders-Frison, 8.2 rpg.
Key team stats: Ninth in scoring (65) and blocked shots (2.63); last in scoring margin (0.2), field goal percentage (42.1), 3-point field goal percentage (30.6), 3-point field goals made (5.09) and turnover margin (minus 1.64).
Pac-10 opener: Sunday at Stanford.
8. OREGON STATE
Individual leaders: Jared Cunningham, 13.4 ppg; Omari Johnson, 6.9 rpg; Joe Burton, 3.4 apg.
Key team stats: First in steals (11.64), third in free throw percentage (77.9), tied for eighth in scoring margin (2.5), ninth in 3-point field goal percentage; last in scoring defense (71.2), field goal percentage defense (44.5), 3-point field goal percentage defense (38.5), rebounding margin (minus-3), and blocked shots (1.82).
Pac-10 opener: Thursday vs. Arizona State.
Individual leaders: Jeremy Green, 16.5 ppg; Josh Owens, 6.4 rpg; Jarrett Mann, 3.3 apg.
Key team stats: Second in rebounding margin (plus 5.8), third in scoring defense (62), ninth in 3-point percentage defense (36.2), last in assists (11.3), steals (4.40) and assist/turnover ratio (.80).
Pac-10 opener: Sunday vs. Cal.
Individual leaders: Joevan Catron, 17.5 ppg and 6.6 rpg; Malcolm Armstead, 4 apg.
Key team stats: Second in free-throw percentage (72.8), third in steals (8.83), fourth in blocked shots (3.83), ninth in scoring defense (69.2), field goal percentage (42.6) and field goal percentage defense (42.8).
Pac-10 opener: Thursday vs. Arizona.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.